Industry Week: a sure bet for business

Jan. 1, 2020
It's North America's largest trade show for good reason.

If you’re interested in parlaying your business into a more successful operation, attending this year’s Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week in Las Vegas could be your winning hole card.

Known collectively as AAIW, many in the aftermarket view the wealth of available opportunities here to be a sure bet that’s well worth the cost and time spent away from your daily business routines.

Jobbers, retailers, warehouse distributors and other industry participants are able to network with all the major aftermarket players in a congenial, high-energy atmosphere — whether you are seeking the latest products, heightened management skills or additional technical expertise.

(And with all the contacts present, you may find new employment prospects or even a buyer for the entire business should you decide it’s time to cash in your chips.)

“We want to make sure that our trade show is a must-attend event for manufacturers and their customers,” says Neal Zipser, communications director for the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA).

MEMA and the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) are jointly sponsoring the Nov. 2-5 Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX) at the Sands Exposition Center.

The Specialty Equipment Market Association’s SEMA Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center runs concurrently along with a veritable buffet of other aftermarket-oriented events along the Strip throughout AAIW.

“In addition to seeing the companies that make the products, you can also learn more technically” by talking directly with top executives and engineering personnel, Zipser points out.

“You can also visit the companies that you don’t do business with,” he adds, allowing you to ask specific questions regarding the expansion of your existing product lines.

“You can contact some pretty big fish in this industry,” agrees Peter MacGillivray, SEMA’s vice president of marketing and communications.

“There are opportunities that you wouldn’t think of,” he continues. “You can go to the show and look Vic Edelbrock in the eye and ask him a question. (Edelbrock is a famed innovator of performance components.) You can’t find that type of access at many shows — the networking is very important.”

Retailers, jobbers and WDs angling for an advantage in tough competitive situations with big chain discounters can make connections that let you live up to promises of “we’ve got the parts.”

“It’s vitally important for businesses to stay on top of the trends,” MacGillivray stresses. “You have to be on top of what’s hot and what’s new. If you wait until customers ask for it, it’s too late because the guy down the street already has it on his shelves.”

Jobbers, in particular, have a chance to step up to the table and build their lines, according to MacGillivray. “That category of the industry has really embraced this show,” he reports.

“There are crossover markets that mean new revenue,” MacGillivray points out, referring to a slew of segments gaining in popularity with the motoring public — such as trucks and sport utility vehicles (including off-roading add-ons), sport compacts (tuners), classics (restoration parts) and mobile electronics.

If you’re selling to service providers, there are numerous parts available that lend themselves to easy installation and a winning payoff. “It’s high-margin,” MacGillivray contends. “It’s a good opportunity to expand your business.”

A full deck

Making a dent in reaching the collision repair and heating/cooling segments can present hot prospects as AAPEX includes the debut presence of the National Automotive Radiator Service Association (NARSA) and the International Autobody Congress and Exposition (NACE).

NARSA joins the numerous other categories on the Sands show floor, while NACE takes place Nov. 3-6 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. (AAPEX/SEMA badges also get you into NACE.)

AAIW “provides the industry’s greatest opportunity to network, listen and learn,” according to Dana Bellantone, NACE’s show director. An array of about 500 exhibitors is expected to grace NACE, which includes a jobber conference track. 

Numerous educational sessions will be available throughout AAIA, covering all aspects of the aftermarket — including a multitude of programs geared to WDs, jobbers and retailers targeting the assorted segments.

“We’re reaching out to more people with the Sunrise Seminar Series,” says Zipser, emphasizing the insight that non-automotive experts can bring to this industry. Featured morning-session speakers include John Force of John Force Racing discussing building winning teams; Ron Hutchinson, vice president of parts and accessories for Harley-Davidson presenting brand identity strategies; and Bram Johnson, executive vice president at FedEx Ground talking about efficiencies in distribution.

A service professional series will include a session on obtaining preventative maintenance business.

SEMA’s sessions include free Dale Carnegie seminars designed for maximum benefit toward the aftermarket. “They’re structured to support small businesses,” MacGillivray explains.

The entire Vegas Strip will be lined with opportunity during AAIW, as a full deck of aftermarket associations, program groups and companies are setting up shop at various hotels and convention facilities.

For example, the Venetian Hotel hosts the Automotive Warehouse Distributors Association Business/Education Conference and One-on-One Meetings, while the Automotive Service Association CARS Conference (Congress of Automotive Repair and Service) commences at the Flamingo Hotel.

Also at the Venetian is a special forum from the University of the Aftermarket. The threat posed to the traditional aftermarket by car dealer service departments is the subject at hand, including providing parts to independent service operations.

Making great strides

AAIA is now North America’s largest trade show.

Last year more than 105,000 people attended the combined AAPEX and SEMA shows. “That momentum is going to grow,” MacGillivray predicts. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we exceed 115,000.”

The record-setting 2003 attendance was up 21 percent over 2002, the previous best year. More significant was a 29-percent boost in aftermarket buyers as more than 51,000 made the scene, including 8,000-plus international purchasing professionals.

“The sponsoring associations, together with show management, have made great strides to add value to the total AAPEX experience, and I think we’re seeing those efforts beginning to produce results,” says Scott Meyer, MEMA’s interim president and former president and CEO of Ken-Tool.

“We have worked hard at focusing our efforts on increasing the quality and quantity of buyers in attendance,” Meyer explains.

“That is what the exhibitors truly want — to increase sales opportunities to customers here and abroad in an effective, focused venue,” he says. “The emphasis to make AAPEX a vehicle for conducting a ‘World of Business’ is truly paying off for all event participants.”

AAPEX organizers are touting a revamped user-friendly Internet registration system that also allows attendees to electronically schedule — and change — their itineraries in real-time as the event progresses. SEMA has similar show-planning technology; view them both online at and

Some 1.2 million feet of display space is expected to sell out by show time, topping last year’s array of 4,600 booths manned by 1,900 vendors.

“This year we expect to come very close to the 2,000 mark,” predicts Bill Glasgow of W.T. Glasgow, Inc., AAPEX show manager. In early August, the organizers were busy “trying to figure out where we can put some additional space.”

Introductory product offerings and innovative packaging concepts designed to deal-in new attendee business by attracting end-user customers have been granted a special spot at the upper lobby entrance to the Sands from the Venetian.

“We want people attending the show to think of the consumers,” notes Zipser. “We’re making it more user-friendly out in the lobby.”

“The New Product and Packaging Showcase is one of the largest and most comprehensive displays,” says Glasgow. “This new location at the busiest entrance will increase manufacturers’ visibility for new products and brands — catching buyers’ attention as they enter the show.”

A bling-bling thing

Plenty of other attention-getting enhancements are being added to the AAPEX show floor — literally: Aisle rugs will feature differing colors to aid in locating desired exhibitors to visit.

Thus, “Once you find the green carpet you can find your booth,” explains Arlene Davis, the AAIA’s senior director of trade shows.

The entire event has been spruced-up with the involvement of trade show professionals who have worked with other industries, including  consultant Murray Chapple.

“We had a whole new set of eyes to look at our show,” says Davis. “The old show had a 1980s look to it,” she concedes.

For the current millennium, look for new signage to assist with navigating AAPEX. Colors and logos will be consistent with the message being conveyed. “Murray created a very simple way to get around our show,” Davis says.

Organizers are pushing an enhanced focus on the attendee buyers, as opposed to a past push toward vendors. “If you get the buyers, the exhibitors will be happy,” Zipser observes.

 AAPEX also is striving to stay on-theme, which this year is, “We keep them on the road.” The slogan refers to targeting aftermarket customers looking for dependable transportation parts and services.

“Our show is about getting people to and from work every day,” Davis says.

“We want the people attending our show to think of the consumers,” explains Zipser.

Davis makes a comparison to the companion SEMA Show: SEMA is akin to diamond jewelry, while AAPEX represents a watch that keeps accurate time. One’s more necessity, the other more accessory.

“Quite frankly, SEMA is more exciting,” according to Davis. “It’s bling-bling when you walk into SEMA,” she adds.

“If we can’t compete on excitement, we can at least tell our story,” Davis concludes.   

Let the tale begin.

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